Rightness: A Flight Nurse Taps Into the Universal Language of Nursing

“Immersed in a nursing role that I didn’t even know existed when I entered the profession, I find there to be a common language—one rooted in science but strongest in humanity and compassion, transcending culture, geography, and words.”

By Marcy Phipps, BSN, RN, CCRN, chief flight nurse at Global Jetcare

MarcyPhipps_Flight_NursingI’m standing in the doorway of our plane, watching our patient sleep and eyeing the monitor. The monitor’s beeps keep steady time and mix with the sounds of the pounding waves that batter the atoll.

We’ve stopped for fuel on this narrow runway that stretches down a spit of land in the Pacific. As the sun rises we snack on cold gyudon, a Japanese dish we picked up in Guam. It’s not the best breakfast, but somehow feels right—like a lot of other aspects of this job lately.

We’d started our mission in eastern Asia, picking up an American citizen who’d fallen ill in a city that didn’t cater to tourists and where almost no one spoke English.

While there, our crew’s handler—someone whose job it is to facilitate our lodging, transportation, and generally ease our way—had taken us to a dimly lit restaurant on a back street and treated us to a myriad of local delicacies, some of which I recognized, many of which I didn’t. My usual morning run had led me through parks and a street market crowded with live chickens and full of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen.

But the ‘rightness’ I felt was owed entirely to the experience I had at the foreign hospital.

As my partner and I stood at the patient’s bedside with the local nurses and physicians, a language barrier didn’t exist. Medication names, classifications, and dosages were easily translated; ventilator settings were clear. And as we performed our physical assessments side by side, our mutual findings were noted with gestures and facial expressions. Although difficult to describe, it was an exemplar of experiences I’ve had many times and in many countries.

In my travels, I often have that feeling of ‘rightness.’ Immersed in a nursing role that I didn’t even know existed when I entered the profession, I find there to be a common language—one rooted in science but strongest in humanity and compassion, transcending culture, geography, and words. I feel like I’ve had full conversations with wives, mothers, and fathers while caring for their loved ones, traveling far distances and long hours in small planes, certain that we understand each other without the convenience of a translator. It’s remarkable and never ceases to surprise me and fill me with happiness. It also makes it nearly impossible to separate my ‘work’ from my personal life.

In the process of getting people home, I gain insight into the bigger picture, and I feel I’ve found my own home, abroad and in the sky.

Click here to explore other posts by Marcy Phipps on this blog.

2016-11-21T13:01:31+00:00 February 1st, 2016|nursing perspective|4 Comments
Chief flight nurse at Global Jetcare.


  1. Jaime Aranda April 18, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Hi I enjoyed your blog and I’m also a nurse myself so I can clearly see your point of view. I think flight nurse offers lot of excitement not to mention that it must be very rewarding when you get a chance to help other people. When it comes to nursing, I think that we can all communicate with some ease because is the most humanistic way of helping and caring for others and caring for others is what makes us humans and that does not have barriers in any country and language..

  2. Sandra Gaitan April 18, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Marcy,
    It fills me with great pride and gratitude for what you do, traveling to distant lands far from your family in order to go help patients, and to provide hope to them and their family. I have also experienced a sense of “rightness,” a deep feeling that I was meant to do this, and that this is my calling. Working on a busy medical/surgical floor is not always as exciting as your job, many times it is, but it does fill my heart and lets me provide compassionate care and collaborate with my fellow nurses to make people feel dignity during the hardest of times. Living in Miami has also exposed me to many cultures, and like you have mentioned, nursing has a universal language that can be understood beyond cultural borders or any type of border. Cultural awareness is very important as it makes our patients feel more comfortable and less scared. Nursing truly is a beautiful profession, and I am proud to be a nurse. Keep up the great work!

  3. Ana April 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I can strongly agree with you in regards to the nursing profession universal language of compassion and humanity. Despite the diversity of cultures and languages nurse’s seem share the same nonverbal communication when caring for patients and nurses sympathize with the patients and families especially more with the low/middle income countries that face many health disparities due to resources, economic, and lack of education. I have never practiced nursing in a foreign country; however, I work in a community health center in south Florida that provides medical care to a population of patients from many countries. I am glad to hear that you are filled with happiness and agree that our work life can not be separated from our personal life when your passionate about what you do.

  4. Jane Barnsteiner February 1, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Beautifully stated. Thank you for sharing this experience. I have had similar experiences and feelings in working in other countries on patient safety…the universality of nursing and healthcare.

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